Style

Incorporating Vintage Menswear Silhouettes

After my last article detailing the differences of suit silhouettes from past eras, I thought that it would be helpful to offer some advice on how to mix pieces from different eras and incorporate vintage menswear silhouettes into your wardrobe. It’s something that I’ve done for the past few years as a lot of my wardrobe was thrifted, found on eBay, or purchased from a vintage store.  Be sure to look at my guide to thrifting as well!

The first thing that I take a look at are the shoulders, which in turn usually points toward the structure of a jacket.  Each era of menswear has a different treatment of a shoulder, which corresponds directly to the overall silhouette. Broad, padded shoulders usually requires a wider, fuller pant leg while natural, narrow shoulders can work with a slim trouser.  Interestingly enough, this reflects the 30’s and the 60’s respectively as well as contemporary tailoring styles around the world.  You wouldn’t wear a structured British jacket with a slim chinos, would you?  Probably not.  It just so happens that soft jacketing is how tailoring has moved in recent time, so anything soft or unstructured (from the 1960s especially) would definitely work well today.  

The next thing I look at is length and buttoning point.  Like shoulders, each era had their own treatment too.  Typically jackets with a “classic buttoning point” (with the last button on the pocket line) lead to a classic and versatile proportions.  Jackets that have a low buttoning point usually have a longer body and will look much more dated.  Suits and jackets from the 1930’s and 1960’s are the best and creating this aesthetic and can be worn with most contemporary pieces, while other “bold eras” like the 1940s-50s and the 1970-90s are much too out of place.  Obviously 1920’s and earlier jackets were designed to be slightly edwardian and have an exceedingly antiquated look to apply today.  

Fabric also plays an important part.  It’s important to remember that looming technology has changed significantly since the 1920’s, which is why older vintage clothing has a certain weight and texture to it when compared to contemporary fabrics.  To make them work today, I find that it’s best to combine vintage garments with similarly weighted and textured garments like flannels, tweeds, and brushed cottons.  Try to avoid novelty fabrics like sharkskin, since they’re hard to pair.  Personally, I find that most vintage garments looks quite odd when worn with super fine worsteds. Patterns will definitely play a part, as old fabrics will usually have some heavy striping or checks, so it’s best not to over do it.  Grey flannel trousers will usually be your best friend when wearing a vintage jackets, though creams, navy blues, and browns can help too.

Lastly, the main way to pull off vintage garments is to style them classically.  Usually the jacket (or suit) is the star of the outfit, so it’s best to keep everything else toned down.  Resist the urge to “complete” the vintage look with bowties or skinny 60’s ties.  Wearing normal striped shirts with repps and foulards is what I always recommend to people, since it’s inoffensive and classic enough to not look like a costume.   Obviously you can mess around with details like collar lengths (like rolled OCBDs or long point collars) or accessories (like a collar bar/pin) but I find it best to keep things simple, especially if you don’t normally wear vintage garments.

As I’ve written before, buying vintage is not only a way to save money on a quality garment but it’s also a great method to add some statement pieces into your wardrobe. Most people avoid vintage since they assume it’s too costumey and aren’t sure how to style it.  I’d like to think that this article helps put a different spin on vintage pieces and while they are a little quirky when compared to contemporary garments, they still have a great place in a classic menswear wardrobe.  

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  1. I’m a classic dresser. Imagine Bruce Boyer or Luciano Barbera. This does not feel as if I’m wearing costume. On the other hand a lot of what is called fashionable menswear today is not without elements of theatricality all driven by commerce of course.

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